Interview with ABC Radio

I am lucky enough to be going on exchange next year to China with the University of Wollongong. In fact, Tiffany Blackmore and I will be the first Wollongong students to exchange to the mainland after UOW’s recently negotiated partnership with Wuhan University.

We had a pretty casual chat with Nick Rheinberger, the local ABC Mornings presenter, about our plans and (LACKING) language proficiency.

In summary, we pretty much just rip on how little we know and how unprepared we are… but hey, that’s what makes it attractive.

So, if you’re interested, take a listen:



Limitless Greed + Inequality + Market Volatility + Unemployment = An Occupied Wall Street.

There’s a telling moment in Hollywood blockbuster ‘limitless’ that recently caught my attention. Through the powers of some unknown, untested drug, the handsome lead, played by Bradley Cooper, is able to substantially increase his brain capacity. In a bid to make money quickly, he turns to the stock market – but after a time buying shares based on press releases and balance sheets, he soon realises that share prices are really driven by rumour, speculation and gossip.

This is the stock market we have today. One that’s driven by speculation. Where risk taking combined with single-minded cattle-like behaviour results in a volatile market. A market plunging one day and jumping the next – although recently there’s been a lot more plunging. The skittish market is making it harder for the average investor (and there’s a lot of us) but is very lucrative for the traders and investment banks of the world. The Australian dollar, for example, recently crashed 12% from highs of US$1.10 to a 10 month low of US$0.95. This occurred over one month! A day few days has passed and it’s now at US$0.97. A huge jump. And the similarly volatile share market has collapsed to levels not seen since the ’08 GFC.

The fact is that this market is terrible for the average investor who has seen the value of their stock portfolio (or superannuation) plummet. But it is making a very small number of people money. A lot of money. Alessio Rastani, for example, now famously stated last week that he dreams of depressions and our current market conditions because the volatility means that money can be made (or for most people, lost) very, very quickly. He argued that it’s actually in traders’ best interests to keep the market this way. To keep the market volatile and unpredictable.

At the same time, the United States has never been so inequitable. Income for the average American has dropped to 1996 levels. Similarly, a report recently stated that 1 in every 6 Americans now live in poverty. An insane statistic.
Now contrast this grim picture with the ever growing wealth of the top 1%. Senator Bernie Sanders made an excellent speech to congress at the end of 2010 that detailed some of this appalling inequality. He says that in 2007 – as the middle class collapses – the top 1% of all income earners in the US made 23.5% of all income – more than the entire bottom 50% combined.

He goes on to say that the top 1/10th of that 1% (that’s the top 0.1%) earns about 12 cents of every dollar earned in America. Crazy. For a much better idea, watch the video below. It’s a bit long, but excellent.

But the greed that has brought on this latest crisis hasn’t gone unnoticed. Two related movements are finally starting to generate publicity and support. Hundreds of people are uploading their stories of middle class struggle to We are the 99%. The other is Occupy Wall Street, which is finally starting to get international media attention.

If you don’t know much about it, Occupy Wall Street is a very, very loose coalition of the frustrated, angry and disappointed. While it may have began life as a protest involving an angry motley of disempowered, disenfranchised, jobless students with Apple laptops and huge education debts, it has become a movement with national – and even international – support, participation and significance.

Initial Adbusters call to action.

It was initially organised by anti-advertising, anti-consumerist group adbusters who have been culture jamming since the late 1980’s. They sent out the call for an occuped Wall Street all the way back in July. Internet activists Anonymous and a US Day Of Rage also have played some part in the movements formation. According to the Occupied Wall Street Journal, most of the planning on the New York side has been done by the NYC General Assembly: a collection of activists, artists and students who were also involved in New Yorkers Against Budget Cuts.

The latest issue of The Occupied Wall Street Journal

The question is, with so many groups involved, who is making the decisions? And what are the movement’s demands?

In terms of decisions, it appears to have fallen to ‘the General Assembly’ which in their words is “a horizontal, autonomous, leaderless, modified-consensus-based system with roots in anarchist thought, and akin to the assemblies that have been driving recent social movements around the world in places like Argentina, Egypt’s Tahrir Square, Madrid’s Puerta del Soland so on. Working toward consensus is really hard, frustrating and slow.”

Sounds promising, doesn’t it?

This lack of clear leadership means that there isn’t a clear list of demands. The main gripes, however, are summed up by The Atlantic reporter Linda Hirshman. She compares the current WS occupation to the hugely successful 1987 Wall Street demonstrations that were in response to the growing AIDS epidemic. The 1987 ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) movement targeted Wall Street as the symbol of drug profiteering and other social evils:

The protestors now occupying Wall Street inveigh against other wrongs — economic inequality, corrupt government, stultifying loads of student debt. Like ACT UP, they benefit from being at the media center of the United States, New York City. Like ACT UP, they are propelled by a media-savvy strategy of leveraging police efforts to remove them into camera-ready images for the news. If they are half as successful as their predecessors in ACT UP, in five years, America will be transformed.

(in her article, she explains why this movement won’t be as successful as the last)

And while the it started out slowly, the movement has grown considerably since its humble September 17 beginnings. While it hasn’t quite attracted the 90 000 participants Adbusters hoped it would, it has very successfully garnered international media attention – especially after more than 700 protesters were arrested during a demonstration on the Brooklyn Bridge last week. And one could argue that the movement has not yet peaked – in some respects, it appears to be growing. Sympathy protests are springing up around the US – in Boston, San Francisco and more – and internationally, even so far as Melbourne and Sydney. While it’s difficult to get any single number, The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday that numbers reached their peak during a protest through Lower Manhattan and that they continue to grow…

The fact that the group’s motivations and leadership are ambiguous does mean that it has the potential to appeal to a wide array of people, but in my opinion, this is its biggest problem. It’s hard to justify a protest that doesn’t offer any suggestions for change. Similarly, the lack of leadership allows for ‘policy hijacking’ and the proliferation of misleading information. An example of this occurred last week when the Occupy Wall Street’s supposed  ‘demands‘ – which were badly written and bordered on the ridiculous – were posted on the website. It turns out that they were only the suggestions of a single poster and not a representation of the movement’s ideals (as was widely reported). It only takes a few radicals to undermine the whole protest.

We are the 99%.

The media response itself is varied but I thought the following paragraph interesting and typical of the changing attitudes towards the movement. Personally, I found the initial coverage generally condescending, it’s beginning to change as more and more people get involved. This paragraph was taken from an article posted on CNN by Roland Martin:

Conservatives call this an assault on capitalism. No, Occupy Wall Street is about trying to bring some decency and honesty back to an industry that used to have some. Instead, what we have today are literal financial pirates trying to take the largest booty they can find. They don’t care about the long-term health of this country. It’s all about the next quarterly earnings reports and their massive year-end bonuses.

This fight that Occupy Wall Street is engaged in is nothing short of a battle for the soul of this nation. Are we going to continue to allow ourselves to be held hostage by the big banks? Will we continue to allow them to trample over us with their “too big to fail” attitude?

A key question is whether this movement has the momentum to stick around and generate some tangible policy changes. The Tea Party movement has been an undeniable success as it consistently energised supporters and had a real impact on republican and national policy. One of the reasons it was so successful is because it had very clear goals and aims – reducing government debt, smaller government, lower taxes, no public healthcare etc – and also had clear leaders and supporters – like Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck. The Occupy Wall Street movement clearly doesn’t yet have all these factors and whether it can generate the same long term support is yet to be seen.

In my opinion, however, it has a very good chance. All the key ingredients – greed, inequality, market volatility, unemployment – are there.

(by the way, if you couldn’t be bothered reading this whole post, you might as well watch this excellent video)

A broken legal system.

AP photo of Troy Davis

Todays execution of Troy Davis illustrates just how rotten, unjust and broken the US legal system is. It’s a system that can convict a man to be executed, who is by no means clearly guilty. A system still prejudiced by race. A system seemingly too broken to be fixed.

It’s amazing to think that this morning while I leisurely sipped my flat white and perused the daily papers in the warm spring sunshine, another man half a world away was, in extraordinarily cruel circumstances, awaiting his execution.

Troy Davis was convicted for the 1989 murder of off duty police officer Mark MacPhail. The Georgian justice system sentenced him to execution by lethal injection which after three attempts, was to finally be carried out today.
Davis has been in a state of limbo, lasting almost 15 years, during which he was granted three stays in his execution. He was at one stage only two hours from his death before a delay was granted. His last few hours were no less dramatic with his planned 7pm execution delayed three and a half hours for a final ruling by the Supreme Court. But in a controversial decision, the Supreme Court rejected his appeal. He was executed at 11.08pm (local time).

The case has been so controversial because of its glaring inconsistencies and the lack of solid evidence. There has never been any video footage, DNA evidence or even a weapon linked to Davis. Seven out of the nine witnesses changed their original testimonies after the trial and there were claims of police witness coercion.

In an editorial, The New York Times said:

The grievous errors in the Davis case were numerous, and many arose out of eyewitness identification. The Savannah police contaminated the memories of four witnesses by re-enacting the crime with them present so that their individual perceptions were turned into a group one. The police showed some of the witnesses Mr. Davis’s photograph even before the lineup. His lineup picture was set apart by a different background. The lineup was also administered by a police officer involved in the investigation, increasing the potential for influencing the witnesses.

Davis claimed his innocence to the very end. In his final statement, he addressed the MacPhail family saying: “Despite the situation you’re in, I’m not the one who did it,”.
Witnesses quoted him saying that while he was sorry for their loss, he “did not take their son, father and brother”. He said that ‘the incident that night was not my fault, I did not have a gun”.

Madison MacPhail, sister of murdered cop Mark MacPhail, speaks about her brother.

To me, at least, it’s clear. Troy Davis should never have been executed. Davis may have been guilty, but what is more important is that he may not have been. The serious lack of evidence and disputed witnesses seriously undermined the case. The fact is that a case so clearly muddied should never have resulted in a conviction – let alone a death sentence.

His execution seriously undermines American legal institutions and raises uncomfortable questions about the death penalty. And it undermines the campaign to stop death sentences used in other countries, like Iran.

I just hope that Troy Davis did not die in vain. While his death sheds light on a terrible and antiquated practice, I wonder how long the outrage will last. Thirty four people have been executed this year – almost a third of them in Texas – and it’s very hard to summon the energy to care because the fact is that generally they’ve committed horrible, heinous crimes. But whether it’s Lawrence Brewer being executed or Troy Davis, it’s an unnecessary and evil practice that needs to end.

I don’t have any illusions about much change coming from Davis’ death. And like most of the interwebz, I’m one of the fleeting indignants: here today, gone tomorrow. But something should change… and I hope it does.

What does everyone out there think? Does anyone deserve the death penalty? Should it remain in place? Is it ever justifiable?

The Malaysia Solution… or something.

Almost daily it seems we are confronted with powerful images of dingy, barely seaworthy fishing boats filled to capacity with a human cargo. We are assailed with aerial views of dirty, tired, seasick men, women and children crowded on a boat’s tiny deck, rocking stationary somewhere between Indonesia and Australia. But these poor refugees hoping – and risking everything – for better lives are trapped not only by the Australian navy but by a political and mass media storm.

We are continually warned about the dangers of ‘boat people’ and politicians argue that we must “send a strong message” to people smugglers. The alternative, they imply, is an Australia overwhelmed by a never ending and growing wave of underprivileged, queue jumping aliens.

It’s no wonder people are confused. It’s no wonder that people are scared. The fact is that in Australia asylum seekers – especially those arriving by boat – are a very sensitive issue. We’ve seen every policy fix in the book; and yet it doesn’t seem to change anything. We still see the same images weekly and the ‘boat people’, the ‘illegal aliens’ still come.

The most recent policy fix was the Gillard governments Malaysia Solution. For those who aren’t sure, the Malaysia Solution was the federal governments bold new plan to, for once and for all, turn back the boats and toughen border security – heard that before? It was a key policy for Gillard, as she believed border protection was a significant factor in the fall of Rudd. The idea behind her plan was that asylum seekers arriving by boat would – before being processed (ie, before the government decided if they were genuine refugees or not) – be sent to Malaysia. In return for up to 800 asylum seekers, Malaysia would send up to 4000 refugees.

On first glance, it looks like Australia has the raw end of the deal. 800 for 4000? Doesn’t seem to stack up, does it? But the idea was to completely disrupt the way people smugglers do business. Why would someone deplete their savings and risk their lives getting to Australia if there was a very good chance they’d end up in Malaysia?

More than disrupting the business model of people smugglers, however, the Gillard government hoped the plan would neutralise the toxic ‘boat people’ issue. The public would see boats being stopped and wouldn’t think about the 4000 flying into Australia under the agreement.

On Wednesday, however, the high court of Australia voted that the deal with Malaysia was unlawful. They believe that the Gillard government was overreaching its federal powers by making a deal that circumvented our obligations to international treaties on the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers. The policy’s downfall was that we would be sending asylum seekers (whose refugee status had not yet been processed) to Malaysia, a country who hasn’t signed the same international conventions and treaties regarding asylum seekers we have. Australia can not, the High Court argues, send refugees to a country that can’t guarantee that they will be treated humanely.

But as I watched a feisty Julia Gillard and visibly disappointed Minister for Immigration Chris Bowen field questions from the media on Thursday, I wasn’t sure how I was supposed to feel. Gillard told us that it was a ‘missed opportunity’ (she actually said that about 50 times during her press conference). But human rights activists told us that the plan was morally wrong.

It’s very messy, either way. The issue became even more clouded in my mind after watching a human-interest report by the ABC’s Zoe Daniel. She interviewed a family that would be one of the first transferred to Australia under the deal. I found it particularly moving and i guess it reminded me that these policies effect real people, real families and that every time they are stalled or stopped or altered peoples lives are drastically changed.

On the other end of the spectrum, Julian Burnside believes that the Malaysia solution would only encourage more asylum seekers to arrive by boat in an article he wrote for The Drum:

The reason for this is that Malaysia does not allow refugees to work. The deal with Malaysia would have notionally allowed transferees to work. Refugees currently living in Malaysia waiting for resettlement would have had a powerful incentive to try to get to Australia in order to be transferred back to Malaysia and receive work rights. For a person who faces the prospect of waiting up to 15 years before being resettled, the incentive to act this way would have been very strong. If that pull factor had in fact operated, it is likely that the quota of 800 transferees would have filled pretty quickly, and would have achieved very little for Australia apart from adding significantly to the cost of deterring boat arrivals.

So the agreement may have in fact attracted more asylum seekers because the conditions of those sent to Malaysia are much, much better than they would normally receive. Using this logic, the high courts decision becomes even more confusing… asylum seekers would get better than the usual treatment in Malaysia – but was still rejected because they can’t guarantee the treatment. No wonder we’re all a bit confused.

I guess either way there was going to be winners and losers. The poor Malaysians expecting to be sent to Australia under the agreement are now in limbo. But those that attempted to enter Australia by boat in the last few weeks – who would have already been sent to Malaysia had the agreement gone ahead – will now be processed in Australia. After all the problems that we’ve seen in Australia’s cramped, overcrowded detention centres recently, however, I wonder whether this is truly a blessing.

The real issue here, however, is how we think about asylum seekers – especially those arriving by boat. The fact is that only 3000 to 4000 asylum seekers attempt to enter Australia by boat. So we’re looking at around 0.0159090909% of our population. What a joke. We’re spending hundreds of millions ‘protecting’ ourselves from less than 4000 people. That’s 4000 people who have often endured horrific conditions. And I haven’t even mentioned the fact that more than 60% of those seeking asylum enter Australia by air – because we never see them, they aren’t a problem.

To finish up, there’s a fantastic government summary of the asylum seeker situation here. It helped me put things into perspective.

I found this paragraph particularly interesting.

Even in the peak boat arrival years of the 1970s and 1999–2001, the arrival numbers in Australia were small compared to other destination countries. In 2000, for example, when approximately 3000 ‘boat people’ arrived in Australia, Iran and Pakistan each hosted over a million Afghan refugees. In fact, the burden of assisting the world’s asylum seekers mostly fell, and still falls, to some of the world’s poorest countries.

We spend so much time and money on this.. it’s time we processed asylum seekers IN Australia and defused this unnecessarily toxic issue. That can only start with our politicians and the media. I know it’s unlikely, but we can all dream.



A little debate never hurt anyone.

Opinions about the current London riots abound. In fact, debate about them is quite inescapable. I’ve encountered, and participated, in it everywhere. Twitter, Facebook, Google+… you name it, i’ve been there, debating. Arguing. Disagreeing. And even sometimes agreeing. There’s no denying, i’ve definitely used my fair share of ‘londonriots’ hashtags in these last few days. Family, friends, strangers; they all have an opinion.

Even while waitering, as I take orders and run coffees, I can’t help but overhear fervent talk of current affairs between sips of coffee.

Unfortunately, much of the excellent, intelligent debate i’ve witnessed has either been behind the closed walls of facebook or taken place in the real world which isn’t yet possible to link you to.

Instead, i’ll just capture a few of the choice posts – from both sides of the debate – that have been made on facebook (sorry about the language, this is facebook, people don’t expect to be published later 🙂


In response to this blog.


So, are they desperate?

This is what really happened… apparently.

What do you call them?

What are we really arguing?

To summarise?

 So, what’s the conclusion? It’s complicated..? Yeah, don’t really know either.

London is burning.

This morning we woke up to images of the black, charred skeletons of double-decker buses, smouldering buildings, glass covered streets, looted shops and crowds of hoodie-masked youths standing off against police in riot gear; basically, scenes of complete lawlessness. We’ve seen images like this recently – in completely different contexts – but this wasn’t the latest chapter in the Arab Spring. This was rioting… in London.

Areas of London (and greater London) affected by riots.

The more I heard, the more I wondered. What sparked this? Was anyone expecting it? And why now? Is it just a coincidence that this is all taking place as world markets plunge? As the US credit rating is downgraded for the first time in history? As a debt crisis engulfs half of Europe? There is a palpable sense of uncertainty – even in Australia, our little island supposedly protected from financial turmoil thanks to buoyant resource prices and an emerging Asia.

The simple answer is yes; everything is linked. And yes, some people predicted this. When the global economy declines, the malaise eventually (and probably faster than you think) reaches all of us. Unfortunately, it is always the lower and middle class citizens that are most exposed to these economic winters. It is no coincidence that Tottenham, which is the epicentre of these riots, is one of London’s poorest boroughs. According to Mary Riddle from The Telegraph there are “10000 people claiming jobseeker’s allowance and 54 applicants chasing every registered job vacancy”. Fifty-four applicants for every job? It’s staggering. In the words of blogger Laurie Penny, “angry young people with nothing to do and little to lose are turning on their own communities, and they cannot be stopped, and they know it.

Similarly, from Futile Democracy (

“There can be no mistaking that the rioting, vandalism and violence are motivated by and large, by opportunism… It has no political motivation on the surface. But the underlying issue, the social deprivation, high unemployment, high VAT rates, the end of EMA, rising inflation, the mass of cuts to youth services, and the unfair and shock economic violence by a government that has grown up enjoying the benefits of a strong public service… is an obvious precursor to social violence from communities that feel ever more excluded.”

It is no coincidence that these riots have taken place against a backdrop of fiscal austerity, against a backdrop of escalating education prices, against a backdrop of corporate tax evasion, against a backdrop of ‘News of the World’ style phone hacking scandals.

There appears to be a sense of moral crisis in Britain.

People are feeling deeply alienated – they have no stake in society – and politics of cynicism and of desperation are filling that emptiness.

So basically, we have a group of people, not just youth, who are jobless (or underworked), bored, frustrated, angry and feeling ostracised and neglected. Whether they realise it or not, these riots are political.

Blogger Laurie Penny (

“Violence is rarely mindless. The politics of a burning building, a smashed-in shop or a young man shot by police may be obscured even to those who lit the rags or fired the gun, but the politics are there. Unquestionably there is far, far more to these riots than the death of Mark Duggan, whose shooting sparked off the unrest on Saturday, when two police cars were set alight after a five-hour vigil at Tottenham police station. A peaceful protest over the death of a man at police hands, in a community where locals have been given every reason to mistrust the forces of law and order, is one sort of political statement. Raiding shops for technology and trainers that cost ten times as much as the benefits you’re no longer entitled to is another. A co-ordinated, viral wave of civil unrest across the poorest boroughs of Britain, with young people coming from across the capital and the country to battle the police, is another.”

[These people] will be waking up this week in the sure and certain knowledge that after decades of being ignored and marginalised and harassed by the police, after months of seeing any conceivable hope of a better future confiscated, they are finally on the news.

A double decker bus burns as riot police attempt to regain control.

Apart from social protest, journalists, politicians and bloggers have given a myriad of other reasons for this unrest. Technology, like twitter, has been listed as one. The Home Secretary Theresa May put it down to ‘sheer criminality’ and others agree, with claims it is opportunistic theft and vandalism, nothing more.

Home Secretary Theresa May

“There is no excuse for violence, no excuse for looting, no excuse for thuggery, and those who are responsible must know that they will be brought to justice. I think this is about sheer criminality.” 

Personally, I cannot even comprehend how hard life must be for some of these people. And I guess I can understand how years of marginalisation and alienation could burst forth in an explosion of violence and pandemonium. Because during that time, you’d feel a power and control that you would rarely feel in the ‘normal’ world. It doesn’t make it right, certainly, but it sure is an obvious call for help.

I wonder, could this happen in Australia? Or the US? We’ve never really seen anything like this (I’m purposefully not including the Cronulla Riots in this category).

Anyway, here are some interesting articles/blog posts I read during the last few hours:

Riots: the underclass lashes out – Telegraph

Rioting Widens in London and Spreads Elsewhere –

London riots / UK riots: verified areas – Google Maps

Penny Red: Panic on the streets of London.

Panic on the streets of London: Futile Democracy.